It has become evident that judging from the relentless pressure being mounted on former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan by power brokers in the North, GEJ and, of course, the South-South geopolitical zone have assumed the best lens through which the issue of power shift is best viewed as we gradually move closer to the 2023 general elections.
It is imperative to reflect on the fact that the issue of power rotation has been a source of tension among the Nigerian political elite since Nigeria rejoined the comity of democratic nations in 1999. This is evident in the way the political elites are already clamouring for where power must be shifted to in 2023 when Nigeria will conduct yet another general election.
It would be recalled that when Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, after many years of military rule, both the Peoples Democratic Party and the defunct Alliance for Democracy fielded Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae respectively, apparently to ensure that power shifted to the South to, among other things, calm frayed nerves among the Yoruba people who felt that they were shortchanged by the annulment of the 1999 presidential election won by a Yoruba business mogul, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
At the end of the day, Obasanjo, who contested the election on the platform of the PDP, emerged victorious in the election and served out his two terms of eight years in office. In its effort to maintain a political balance among the various geopolitical zones in the country, the PDP decided to introduce what is known today as the zoning formula which — although was not in the nation’s rule book: the Constitution — was generally accepted as one of the ways to entrench peace in the country.
Expectedly, the zoning formula of the PDP in the 2007 general election favoured the North, which resulted in the party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar’adua, winning the election. Unfortunately, Yar’adua took ill and later died halfway into his administration.
After his demise, Jonathan, who was the then Vice President, as stipulated by the constitution completed the remaining two years of Yar’adua.
Expectedly, in 2015, it was expected that President Jonathan should be allowed to complete his second tenure of four years, but it dramatically turned out that power, quickly once again, returned to the North when Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) won the presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress. Now that President Buhari is on the last lap of his eight-year tenure, the issue already rocking the political arena is which of the six geopolitical zones of the country should produce the next President.
Under the “gentleman agreement” within the power blocs of the PDP in 2007, which is today known as “zoning formula,” the southern region of the country was supposed to produce the next President. However, following dissenting voices, especially within the ruling APC, this “gentleman agreement” is being threatened.
Despite the dissenting voices, however, there has been a massive campaign in the North and among influential southern political elites that power should shift to the South in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
Apart from the 17 southern governors, who at their meeting some time ago resolved that power should rotate to the region, political elites, youth groups, civil society organisations and individual political heavyweights from the North have drummed their support that power should this time around rotate to the South.
Prominent among northerners that unanimously spoke against the proponents, who believe power should be decided based on competence and opposed to zoning, are from the North-West and North-Central geopolitical zones of the country.
Also in support of the power shift to the southern part of the country are prominent politicians from the Middle-Belt, who were recently quoted to have said that they are fully in support of the rotational presidency and believe that it is the time for the South to lead Nigeria.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, for instance, said he believes that only equity, fairness and justice can strengthen the unity of Nigeria; give all citizens a sense of belonging and reduce tensions across the country.
Another prominent politician from the North-East, while throwing his weight behind those clamouring for power to be shifted to the South, said he is of the view that zoning the presidency to the South in the coming poll is crucial to national unity and inclusivity.
For instance, the Borno State Governor, Prof Babagana Zulum, said, “I have said it times without number that I am of the view that the presidency should go to the South in the year 2023 because the unity of our country is very important.
“Secondly, inclusivity is very important. Thirdly, I am in the All Progressives Congress. Six or seven years ago, APC had zoned the presidency to Northern Nigeria based on the agreement that, in 2023, the presidency should go to the South.”
For some prominent politicians from the North-Central, although the idea of rotating power is not enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, it is a political practice that should be respected.
Speaking in an interview on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, Governor Zulum appealed to his party, the APC to zone the presidency to the South. According to him, rotating the office of the President between the North and South will give citizens the sense of belonging necessary for the development of the nation.
As the 2023 election draws closer, one should expect political parties to sit and come up with workable formulas that will lead to victory. While agitating for a power shift, political elites must also bear in mind the unity of this country.
At a time some parts of southern Nigeria are complaining of marginalisation and all that, shortchanging them by not abiding by the zoning formula, though it is not in the constitution, will create more apprehension among them.
In a plural country like Nigeria, there is nothing wrong with power rotation. No region has a monopoly of power. Through this political arrangement, every region will be equally represented. Therefore, the rotation of the presidency is capable of addressing the issue of power dominance by certain regions or tribes in the country.
Since a larger section of stakeholders are of the view that power shifting to the South this time would ensure peace in the country as it is likely to calm frayed nerves, especially in the areas of violent agitation for self-actualisation, political elites should have a re-think and find a way to midwife the return of political power to the southern part of Nigeria in such a way that the entire country will be the biggest beneficiary.
Understandably, this is where those behind the move to persuade GEJ to return to power in 2023 to complete his second tenure of four years anchor their argument and they are right. Nigeria’s highest political exigency at the moment is its staggering unity and protracted national security situation.
Nigeria’s wisest card as we inch closer to the all-important 2023 is GEJ and South-South card. For all those who believe in Nigeria and its peaceful co-existence, this is a clarion call to support this move.
Garba is a political scientist based in Kaduna